Made to squeeze a few extra bucks from fans who couldn’t get enough of singing siblings Donny and Marie Osmond by watching the devout Mormons’ weekly variety show on TV, Goin’ Coconuts is an anemic comedy/thriller featuring the Osmonds playing themselves. While traveling to Hawaii for a gig, Marie meets a priest who gives her a necklace as a gift, only it turns out the priest is a gangster in disguise, and the necklace is a valuable artifact. Upon arriving in Hawaii, Marie and her brother Donny are chased by various goons who want the necklace, even though it takes the Osmonds some time to figure out why they’ve been targeted. While all of this unfolds, Donny tries to spark romance with a pretty blonde named Tricia (Cystin Sinclaire), whom the audience knows is merely trying to get the necklace, and the Osmonds struggle to fulfill their performance obligations.
The movie also features interminable scenes of the bumbling crooks seeking to acquire the necklace. The crooks are portrayed by such Hollywood als0-rans as Ted Cassidy (best known as “Lurch” from the ’60s Addams Family series) and Harold Sakata (who played henchman “Odd Job” in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger). Additionally, gifted comic actor Kenneth Mars embarrasses himself by recycling his Nazi accent from The Producers (1967) and his fake-arm shtick from Young Frankenstein (1974) to play one of the villains. Only Herb Edelman, playing the Osmonds’ long-suffering manager, renders a credible comic performance, though he’s stuck with atrocious dialogue. Goin’ Coconuts is shot in the flat style of bad ’70s television, and every punch line is delivered with an eye roll, a wink, or a long pause to accommodate expected laughter. Donny and Marie do little to diminish their reputations as hard-working entertainers, and they grind through musical numbers with their usual all-smiles professionalism. Still, there’s a reason why they failed to expand their reach into movies, and that reason is Goin’ Coconuts.
The same year that Donny and Marie made their big-screen play, younger brother Jimmy Osmond starred in a movie of his own, The Great Brain. Based on a book by John D. Fitzgerald (actually the first in a long series of novels), The Great Brain is a bargain-basement rip-off of Tom Sawyer, with moon-faced Jimmy Osmond cast as Tom Fitzgerald, a preteen swindler living in a Utah frontier town circa the 1890s. Episodic and flatly directed, the movie slogs through sad and/or whimsical events that teach Tom the error of his self-serving ways. In a typical lighter moment, he concocts an intricate deal to sell the puppies that a friend’s dog is about to deliver and manages to make anyone who questions his motives feel guilty. In a typical heavier sequence, Tom helps a friend find a new purpose in life after the friend loses a leg to a gangrene infection.
The underlying material is okay, if a bit preachy, but the execution is deadly. The camerawork is dull and mechanical, the performances by child actors range from mediocre to stiff, and Jimmy Osmond lacks any special flair except in one scene when he’s convincingly furious. The main problem, however, is the crushing familiarity of the piece, since every single element—from the cornpone narration to the wild schemes that the lead character invents—borrows from the Mark Twain playbook and pales by comparison with the master’s style. Unsurprisingly, The Great Brain marked the beginning and the end of Jimmy Osmond’s big-screen acting career.
Goin’ Coconuts: LAME
The Great Brain: LAME